Exclusive: Interview With Bryant Gumbel (and His Fiance)

ByABC News
May 15, 2002, 5:57 PM

N E W   Y O R K, May 17 -- Bryant Gumbel left 27 years of network television this morning. "In this instance, it's just the right thing to do," he says. "You just feel it in your gut."

"Because I think it's time," the 54-year-old tells ABCNEWS' Barbara Walters in an interview to air tonight on 20/20. "There's a saying in baseball that general managers are always willing to, or anxious to cut a guy two years too early, rather than one year too late. And I think it's the same It just feels right."

Asked whether CBS wanted him to go, Gumbel says, "I told CBS early on that this was it. This was done

"Before they began looking for other people?" asks Walters.

"You'd have to ask them," answers Gumbel. "I'm not privy to their negotiations."

Building His Career

Not long after graduating from college, Gumbel started with KNBC in Los Angeles as sportscaster. He made it to the network, and eventually so impressed executives that he was chosen to succeed Tom Brokaw as co-anchor of the Today show in 1981. He was the first African-American to host a network morning show.

During his 15-year run on Today, first alongside co-host Jane Pauley and later with Katie Couric, he gained a reputation as being one of the best in the business. He interviewed presidents and world leaders, and rubbed shoulders with everyone from pop stars to the Pope. Then, in 1997, Gumbel left Today while it was still the No. 1 morning show.

"It seems funny in retrospect now," he says. "I actually imagined that I would disappear and be the crazy old guy who lives on the hill. I really did. I thought I would just go away."

But only two months after leaving Today, Gumbel signed a five-year $25-million contract with CBS to host his own primetime newsmagazine called Public Eye with Bryant Gumbel. The program was canceled after one season.

In 1999, Gumbel returned to morning TV. After CBS built a $30 million studio for Gumbel and co-host Jane Clayson, The Early Show was born. The show in third place after Today and ABCNEWS' Good Morning America has not lived up to expectations.